(St. Petersburg, Florida) I decided to cross another one off my “bucket list.” I came to Florida for a couple of weeks of watching baseball spring training.
I’ve been to a spring training game or two over the years. This time it’s different. I’ll be traveling to five different venues with fellow baseball geeks to become fully immersed.
When I decided, months ago, to put this trip together, one of the first people I invited was my brother, Eric. He turned me down. “I’m just not that interested in pre-season,” he told me. I tried to explain that this is baseball spring training, not pre-season. There is a difference, whether he sees it or not.
Hockey and basketball play some games before their seasons begin. Nobody makes a pilgrimage to see them. The NFL’s training camps are happenings, but they’re held in the absolute dog days of summer, hardly a comfortable time to be seated for hours in the sun.
Baseball, however, begins its calendar year in Florida and Arizona. In March. The northern weather usually is still pretty crummy. But here on the west coast of Florida, the temperatures are near 80 with a constantly refreshing breeze.
Besides delightful weather, spring training offers fans a chance to get up close and personal with their sports heroes. Players are as loose as the spectators in March, willing to chat, sign autographs and pose for photos.
The towns that dot the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues make visitors feel like kings. They’ve built gorgeous miniature stadia where fans sit very close to the field. Signs of welcome abound.
Spring training is also a time of unflinching optimism. All of the teams are tied for first place. Fans know this could be the year their team finally makes it to the Fall Classic. Even Cubs fans. I did not say the optimism was well-founded.
So, spring training is about baseball, but it’s so much more. It’s about renewal. And in my case, some good old-fashioned male bonding.
The special magic of the great American pastime’s yearly awakening is a Core Value.